Chp. 2: Anger & Dialog
Continuing with examples from anime, in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Roy Mustang’s best friend is killed by Envy. Mustang, after searching thoroughly, trying to track down the murderer, meets Envy who confesses mockingly to his horrid deed. Mustang is so angry that not only wishes Envy’s death, but also wants to torture him to satisfy the anger inside him. When his face becomes almost distorted by his hatred, his friends intervene. Riza actually threatens to pull the trigger if he doesn’t control his fury. Earlier in the series, the two of them had promised to take down the corrupted ruler of their country, so they could lead it to a path where the lives of all civilians would change for the better. In this state, Mustang wasn’t any better than the one he wished to overthrow.
Scar: So you’re going to let your emotions take over and descend to the path of a savage. I guess that’s fine. If you’re going to insist on living for revenge, I won’t stop you. I don’t have the right to interfere with someone’s revenge. I’m just interested to see what kind of world will be created by someone held prisoner by hatred.
Riza: I won’t let you kill Envy, Colonel. But still, I don’t plan on letting Envy live either. I’ll take care of him. […]But… But what you’re about to do isn’t for the sake of the country, and it’s not for the sake of helping your comrades either. You’re trying to dispel your hatred. That intent alone is gnawing at your heart. You can’t fall down that path.
Episode 54, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood
I believe this scene to be very reflective of the mistake many social justice warriors often commit. They suffer from the pain inflicted on them to the point that their minds get hazy and vent their frustration, indignation, and bitterness onto the first person they perceive as enemy. In many cases, some of which we’ll mention in a following chapter, things get to the point of bullying and harassment, thus creating a negative environment. In their efforts to “smash patriarchy”, they use the same weapons they got hurt by. What’s worse is that they use them on different people than the ones who hurt them in the first place. Such tactics won’t bring the change they they desire and struggle so much for. “Eye for an eye” leads nowhere.
Many sjw love to talk about “teachable moments” and how ignorant people should “educate themselves”, yet they seem oblivious to the basics of how learning works. Do you remember that teacher who made you stand while she ridiculed you, calling you names in front of everyone, for not doing your homework? What about that professor who mocked your intelligence or skills based on his prejudice? Maya Angelou once said: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Labelling, yelling, and giving orders aren’t good teaching strategies and certainly they don’t foster an appropriate learning environment. On the contrary, they make people recoil and shut their ears.
For learning to take place and change to occur, dialog is the most essential means. For dialog to be cultivated and carried out decently, sobriety is prerequisite. Those are the rules of discussing in a civilized manner; not something made up by powerful people to silence the powerless. Hostility and spitefulness destroy any effort of building bridges. Anger is, no doubt, an important emotion. Expressing it, making our voice heard, standing up for ourselves, is of great significance. That doesn’t mean it’s useful in every occasion. If someone denies that rape is a crime, then you can shout all you want, because there’s an insurmountable gap between the two sides and you are faced with a person who will just ruin your day but there’s almost zero chance of convincing them otherwise; you might as well try raw anger to get them something across. If, on the other hand, someone is on the fence about abortion, there’s room to question their ideas and beliefs. We have to pick our battles and act according to the situation at hand.
“You won’t tell me how to talk” or “You’re trying to police us” are complaints I frequently hear from social activists, and I understand them. That’s still not good enough of a reason at the table of discussion, because we can’t always assume the worst intentions. Assumptions are potential deterrents of logic and understanding. If anything, labeling and swearing on the base of assumptions leads mostly to self-fulfilling prophecies.
Dialog also needs all the parties involved to have their ears and minds open, not telling each other to shut up. I hope it’s unnecessary to say that telling someone to shut up isn’t the same as asking them to listen. The infamous “tone argument fallacy” claims that the tone of a statement is independent of its content, but that’s not quite right; tone is a part of how meaning is formed. We can see this clearly, when we complain about people not being politically correct; the words and the tone they chose matters. Hypocritical, no?
Moreover, the refutive argument to tone ‘policing’ isn’t a very good metaphor. “If you tread on someone’s toes and you tell them to get off, then get off their toes; don’t tell them to ask nicely” takes a situation where physical harm is felt by the one doing it and where pain is visible and compares it with totally different situations. For example, people who ‘compliment’ a trans woman for how they couldn’t imagine they were ‘men’ before and receive a “screw you” as a retort many times lack the knowledge about how gender and sex work (because school gives almost zero information about the topic). Plus they don’t see the pain they cause if sorrow is expressed as anger. So they perceive the situation as getting yelled at about something they said and thought as positive.